Rival Schools Smash in CSL Qualifiers


by | Feb 19, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

UCI players cheer on teammate Robert “PL” Martinez (sitting left.)

On February 16th, 2019, twelve collegiate teams across the Southern California region travelled to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo to compete in the Collegiate Star League (CSL) SoCal Local Qualifiers. This esports organization, which hosts collegiate tournaments for titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League, recently announced their second circuit for Super Smash Bros., switching the previous title on their roster, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate upon release. The February 16th local qualifier featured a five-on-five crew battle event for both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Ultimate. UCI Smash players formed three separate teams to enter the crew battle at Saddleback – two for Ultimate and one for Melee – where universities all over SoCal would compete to earn a spot at the divisional championships in spring.

The ‘crew battle’ is a competitive format unique to fighting games, and even then, the rules are even more fresh and exciting in Smash. Inspired by action anime such as Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho, where characters would participate in martial arts tournaments as a team, crew battles feature teams of up to five players playing in a one-on-one format. The format is such that when you defeat your opponent, you must now fight the next player on that team, and so on until you are defeated. In other words, if Player 1 from Crew A defeats Player 1 from Crew B, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B. In traditional fighting games, players face each other in games that are divided within the game rules by ‘rounds,’ but in Smash, ‘stocks’ and respawning after being knocked off the stage exist in lieu of the rounds format. Because of this, the stakes for Smash crew battles are different than that of traditional fighters: each crew gets a pool of stocks used to keep track of score, and once those stocks are taken, they’re gone for good. That is to say, if Player 1A defeats Player 1B at the beginning of a Melee crew battle, but they lose two of their stocks, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B with a two-stock deficit, while Player 2B begins the game with all four stocks. This can provide an element of depth, strategy, and sheer excitement while watching – and playing – Smash crew battles; while one crew may technically be in the lead by stocks, their current player must compete against any future opponents with a disadvantage. Furthermore, as in other fighting games with crew battle formats, there is also the innate strategy inherent in choosing which players will function as point, middle, or anchors for their team.

As previously reported, UCI’s Ultimate players have been proving themselves as forces to be reckoned with, both at on-campus weekly tournaments hosted at the UCI Esports Arena and at events held elsewhere in Orange County. After deliberating the day before the event, it was decided that the A-team for UCI would consist of the following players: Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera, Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, and new player Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield. A freshman both at UCI and on the Ultimate crew, SoulX is a skilled up-and-coming Daisy player, with notable recent placings being 9th/30 at the Valentine’s Day 2019 UCI weekly and 65th/408 at 2GGaming’s Heart of Battle regional event on February 9th, 2019.

The UCI Ultimate A-team does their best Daisy impression in honor of Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield (far left.) To his right, in order: Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat,” Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera

UCI’s B-team was formed by players who had initially shown up as possible substitutes should any players from the A-team not be able to attend. However, when your author arrived at the event, initially solely intending to report on the crew battles, the substitute players realized that they had a second viable team of five. Thus, the B-team consisted of Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Robert “PL” Martinez, and Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami. Apart from myself, every player on the B-team had respectable placements at UCI weeklies, as well as shifting spots on the UCI Smash 4 rankings prior to Ultimate’s release.

The Ultimate B-team roster, from right to left: Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Robert “PL” Martinez, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” “Your Author” Dhami

As previously stated, there were twelve crews total present for the tournament: UC Santa Barbara, Saddleback, CSU Northridge, CSU San Marcos, University of La Verne, CSU San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Channel Islands, and two teams from USC were waiting to challenge UCI players. The CSL crew battle tournament was held in a single-elimination format – when one team was out, they were out for good. Unfortunately, the UCI B-team lost in the first round to CSUSB’s team. The A-team, on the other hand, had equal parts luck and skill on their side. Being the second seed of the tournament, the UCI A-team was given a bye, where they awaited ULV’s Ultimate crew. After defeating ULV, they moved on to avenge the B-team by defeating CSUSB with a four-stock lead, moving on to grand finals against Cal Poly Pomona.

The first seed of the bracket, Cal Poly Pomona’s team boasted an impressive roster, with players like Ken “ShiNe” Huang and Enrique “Nano” Garcia placing well at local SoCal events, and Quinton “ImHip” Goodman being ranked 18th in the all-time Socal Smash 4 Power Rankings as Olimar. These stats did nothing to deter the A-team, however, as all five UCI players were talented in their own right. After T3Dome’s Richter fell to Samuel “Arkistor” Weinger’s Inkling, having already respectably earned three stocks for UCI, Rafi’s Bowser began putting in work. Rafi cleanly defeated Arkistor, only losing a single stock, and proceeded to take two more stocks off of Derek “Deck” Wongso’s Ken before finally being taken down himself. Muskrat Catcher then followed Rafi, finishing off Deck with his King Dedede, and took another two stocks off ShiNe’s Pokémon Trainer before he was felled. At this point, it was down to SoulX and Jovanni’s six stocks and ShiNe and ImHip’s four. The UCI A-team sent out SoulX, who promptly cleaned up ShiNe’s final stock and moved on to fight ImHip. In what will surely be considered a historic match by SoCal Ultimate players, SoulX’s smart Daisy play managed to outmaneuver ImHip’s Olimar and eliminate him, securing UCI’s win with four stocks remaining to none. The decision to add SoulX to the A-team crew after long deliberation paid off, with him taking a game off of a top-ranked SoCal player in order to guarantee UCI’s spot in the CSL divisional qualifiers.

The UCI Melee crew and alternates strike a pose, huddling around Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams (crouching center.) From left to right, Alex L., Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, Jake “Rig” Song, John “KoDoRin” Ko.

After Ultimate crew battles ended, the Melee crew battle bracket began. The Melee bracket was smaller, with only three schools attending the event – UCI, UC San Diego, and Saddleback. Due to the small bracket, the tournament was ran in a round robin format instead of the single elimination style used for Ultimate. In the round robin format, every team is made to play against each other once to see who can earn the most wins. UCI Melee was represented by the following players: Jake “Rig” Song, Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, and John “KoDoRin” Ko.

UCI and UCSD’s Melee teams absolutely dominated Saddleback’s crew in their respective battles, with UCI’s Woosh even taking a whopping fifteen stocks from Saddleback’s players by himself. Now, with one point each, the winner of UCI versus UCSD would earn their spot in the Melee CSL divisional qualifier. Towards the end of their battle, UCSD was unable to reconcile the wide lead that UCI had earned, and UCI’s Melee team was able to close it out cleanly, with three stocks to none. The UCI Melee team is already well-recognized for Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams, a UCI graduate ranked 33rd in the world on the Melee Panda Global Rankings. Their win at the CSL qualifiers is just another notable victory for an already prolific crew.

In the end, both UCI teams won the CSL SoCal local qualifiers, earning the right to represent SoCal at the divisional qualifiers, held at a to-be-determined date and location this spring. From there, the winner of the divisional qualifiers will be invited to the national CSL championships, held at Smash supermajor tournament Shine 2019 in late August. The winning teams will also be awarded travel stipends for the purpose of assisting them in traveling to the divisional qualifiers.

More information about CSL Smash can be found on their website and social media. ( CSL Twitter / CSL Smash Twitter ) VODs and livestreams for their Smash events can be found on their Twitch channel. Brackets for the CSL SoCal Local Qualifiers can be found on Challonge. ( Melee / Ultimate )

Photos appear courtesy of Aaron “Ghostzy” Mariconda. ( Twitter )

Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


by | May 1, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

This is part 2 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

This article features Craig G. Anderson, a doctoral candidate at the Esports Lab. His research topics focus on the cognitive influences of games, including the roles of failure and persistence in gaming. More information, including contact information, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/.

What led you to become involved in esports research? What is your educational background?

I’ve been working with Profs. Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire for about five years;  we started in Madison, Wisconsin where we were initially researching educational games. It wasn’t until we moved to Irvine when our research started to change gears toward esports. I still study single player commercial games, but I can now start looking at the area of multiplayer competitive environments as well.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

My masters work was on “what makes video games engaging.” To that end, I made a low-fidelity version of Peggle and had people play it to find out if they still enjoyed playing and if they learned the core skills about the game (they only played half as much, and reported less engagement). There’s something about having success just out of reach that keeps players coming.  I then started to think about how failure is so common in games, and how games construct failure as something expected. I’m interested in looking at games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, notoriously difficult games that have a huge fanbase. Do playing these types change the way we think about failure, both in and outside of the game as well?

Today, my research focuses on how players react to failure in games. I come from a psychology background, so I’m interested in how video games make people think, and especially how they frame failure in comparison to other environments. One reason why esports is so interesting is because there are teammates that are relying on you to succeed with them as well — any failure can affect the whole team. Another interesting aspect as well is the spectators; do players react to failure differently when people are watching? If so, how?  

I am currently looking to watch testers play Cuphead and try to map the places where players are most likely to fail. I’m particularly interested in seeing if they persist, and also the reorientation strategies they use. What’s difficult about this is that the methodology hasn’t been done before. Researchers usually just survey their testers about their experiences, but I plan to actually observe the testers play the game. How long do players persist through failure? How many times do they fail, and how do they react to those failures? How many times do they try before they give up?

Who do you work with on a regular basis at the lab?

The lab was designed on purpose to encourage open, constant collaboration. Everyone talks across the table and gets the chance to collaborate with others on topics they find interesting. There are all kinds of people that work in the lab, from professors to graduate students, and even undergraduate and high school interns.

Outside the lab, our biggest project is NASEF, the high school esports league that also facilitates academic research. We work with the high school players to get gameplay footage that we might be able to refer to in our research, such as League of Legends mid lane players.

What is one of the most important things you’ve done in your time researching esports?

I am the co-chair for UCI’s Esports Conference (ESC). It was a huge amount of work, especially since ESC 2018 was the first-ever instance of it. The team spent a whole year planning the whole event, but it paid off! I’m happy that many people enjoyed it and want to go again next year, so even now we’re working on ESC 2019.

Where do you see esports (and/or research in the area) in five years?

As esports becomes more mainstream, I see it growing in popularity until it is on par with regular, traditional sports. Similarly, esports research will continue to grow, especially at UCI where the Informatics department and games studies is growing. I want to see UCI become the premier game studies university. Before Profs. Steinkuehler and Squire came, there were only three or four professors in the department studying anything games-related. Now that there are a lot of big names doing research here, the school is now attracting more and more games scholars.

Looking Cool, Joker! Smash DLC Steals UCI’s Hearts


by | Apr 24, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

On April 17th, 2019, the first Challenger Pack DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched alongside the version 3.0 update. (While Piranha Plant was the first DLC character to be added to the game in January 2019, it was not as part of the planned season pass content.) The long-anticipated update added Joker, the main protagonist from Atlus RPG Persona 5, to the already prolific Smash roster. The Phantom Thief of Hearts explodes onto the scene, wielding a variety of attacks both martial and mystical. The most important mechanic separating Joker from the rest of the cast is his Rebellion Gauge, which summons the Persona Arsene to assist Joker in his attacks. The DLC also included the new stage Mementos, a landscape inspired by the world of subconscious thought that the Phantom Thieves travel through in Persona 5.

The TAG @ UCI Ultimate weekly tournament was hot off the heels of the update, although it wasn’t the first Southern California weekly to actually run the new patch. (That honor would go to the April 17th Wednesday Night Fights event held at the Santa Ana Esports Arena.) With 44 entrants, the weekly was also notable for the appearance of two top SoCal players, Matt “Elegant” Fitzpatrick and Mr. ConCon– the former currently ranked 10th with Luigi on the SoCal Ultimate Power Rankings, and the latter an honorable mention with the same character. Justin “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, head TO for the TAG @ UCI Ultimate club, also placed a humble five-dollar bounty on the highest placing player who exclusively played Joker for the duration of the tournament. However, while Elegant did use the new character in many of his games, he ultimately returned to his main for a few matches, and grand finals of the tournament was a Luigi ditto between him and Mr. ConCon.

UCI players practice with Joker on a Battlefield-form version of the new Mementos stage.

I asked top UCI players for their opinions on the new character after they had a day to see what he was capable of. “The most amazing thing to me, is that last night at Wednesday Night Fights, Joker almost won the tournament,” Muskrat Catcher explained to me, referring to grand finals of WNF 1.9 (4/17/19) between Mr. E’s Lucina and SweetT’s Joker. “He took grand finals to a game five scenario, so obviously he has promise as a character.” Muskrat’s personal belief was that Joker was neither a bad character nor an overtuned one, and that the future metagame would be very interesting with his introduction.

Rafael “Rafi” Guadron disagreed with Muskrat’s assessment, however. “[He’s] a mid-tier, mid-high character. He seems pretty annoying, and I don’t like that he has that Arsene [mechanic.]” Functionally, when Joker summons Arsene, his damage output and the rest of his abilities increase dramatically. The Redemption Gauge that marks the time until the Persona appears fills up in small increments when Joker takes damage, and in major increments when Joker successfully counters attacks. “I’m probably not gonna play him,” Rafi stated bluntly.

When I asked Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie for his opinion on Joker, he gave me a very straightforward rundown of how he feels the character functions. “[Joker’s] definitely looking like a technical character. If we were trying to put him in a character archetype, [he’d be] more along the combo characters like Sheik and such, where you have to do a lot of hits in order to do massive damage, but then you get Arsene, which functions like [Cloud’s Limit Break mechanic] so you can get KOs really well.” Incidentally, even though he had a relatively low placing of 17th at the tournament, Uyi was also the winner of Muskrat’s five dollar Joker bounty, being the highest-placing solo Joker at the event.

In anticipation of Joker’s inclusion, the TAG @ UCI graphics team designed a new Persona-themed rankings image for the UCI Ultimate players to commemorate their recent results.

Meanwhile, Mementos was also the subject of debate in regards to the stagelist moving forward. With the Hazards toggle set to Off, the harmful elements of Mementos (namely the trains that pass through the top and bottom blastzones) disappear, leaving a large, asymmetrical stage with a slope in the center, and two platforms in the center and on the left. “If 2GGaming [the major Southern California grassroots Ultimate tournament organization] runs it at their events, we’ll have to play on it,” Rafi said. At the moment, due to Mementos’s asymmetrical nature, the stage may only be run as a counterpick rather than a neutral starter stage. However, its unique aesthetic and acid jazz Persona soundtrack make it an endearing fan-favorite, so players strongly advocate for its inclusion in official stagelists.

In the end, Joker’s stunning inclusion into Smash alongside the Mementos stage are bound to shake up the Ultimate metagame. The new character has stolen the hearts of both new and current players, and once his abilities are further explored, he may even have the potential to clinch out tournament wins. While it’s safe to say that no one saw Joker’s invite to the prestigious mascot fighter coming, everyone is still excited to see how he’ll perform.